Read Hunts in Dreams Online

Authors: Tom Drury

Hunts in Dreams

Praise for
Hunts in Dreams

“Drury connects the dots of American alienation and
confusion into a fierce pointillist portrait . . . using language at once laconic, edgy
, and musical.”

—
Newsday

“Drury is a master at dialogue.
. .
. Almost every page of
Hunts in
Dreams
sparkles with little pearls of the writer's craft, whether it's humor, pathos, or insight.”

—
The Denver Post

“Tom Drury has done it again.
Hunts in Dreams
is guided by a wry and warm-hearted sensibility and populated with appealingly flawed characters whose quirks, desires, and self-contradictions are our own.”

— Wally Lamb

“A wonderful piece of storytelling.”

—
Esquire

“A dreamlike book—not in the way dreams are but
in the way that life can be.”

—
Salon

“[A]
highly entertaining tale of American working-class ­existentialism.”

—
Booklist

“[Drury is] one of those rare writers who qualifies for the term original.
. .
. His deadpan, declarative style radiates both absolute authorial command and the whimsical confidence of a writer content to let his characters take the tale where they
want it
to go.”

—
The Philadelphia Inquirer

“Drury's gift
for dead-on realism and unfussy dialogue reveals the humorous, edgy
pathos of his characters and invests his story with the ambiguity
of real life and the poignancy of unrealized dreams.”

—
Publishers Weekly
(starred review)

HUNTS IN

DREAMS

Books by T
om Drury

THE END OF VANDALISM

THE BLACK BROOK

THE DRIFTLESS AREA

PACIFIC

HUNTS
I
N

DREAMS

Tom Drury

Grove Press

New York

Copyright © 2000 by Tom Drury

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages in a review. Scanning, uploading, and electronic distribution of this book or the facilitation of such without the permission of the publisher is prohibited. Please purchase only author­ized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copy­righted materials. Your support of the author's rights is appreciated. Any member of educational institutions wishing to photocopy part or all of the work for classroom use, or anthology, should send inquiries to Grove/Atlantic, Inc., 841 Broadway, New York, NY 10003 or
[email protected]
.

This edition was first published in the United States in 2001 by Mariner Books, an imprint of the Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston

Printed in the United States of America

Published simultaneously in Canada

ISBN:
978-0-8021-9478-2

Grove Press

an imprint of Grove/Atlantic, Inc.

841 Broadway

New York, NY 10003

Distributed by Publishers Group West

www.groveatlantic.com

FOR

Christian and Claudia

AND IN MEMORY OF

Marcelle Irene Drury, 1930–1999

Friday

1
◆
Charles

T
HE MAN BEHIND
THE COUNTER
of the gun shop did not understand what Charles wanted, and so he summoned his sister from the back room, and she did not understand either. It was late on a Friday afternoon in October, and Charles seemed to be speaking an unknown language.

Outside, the wind gusted. Sunlight broke through fast clouds and swept across the windows. The sister, in a coarsely woven blue sweater, picked up the feeding rod of a semiautomatic rifle and flicked it at her brother's arm in play. Charles thought of it as a feeding rod, anyway. No doubt there was another name.

“On guard,” she said.

“I told you,” said the brother, “keep away from me with that.”

What Charles wanted seemed simple enough to Charles: for the gun-shop owners to visit the minister's widow and offer to buy the shotgun she kept on pegs above the fireplace.

This is the history of the gun: Years ago
it had belonged to Charles's stepfather, who before his death had given
it to the Reverend Matthews. It was a .410 side-by-side shotgun made by
Hutzel and Pfeil of Cincinnati. In his mind Charles could see the company name engraved in ornate script on
the breechblock. When the minister died, his widow inherited the gun.
Maybe it was sentimental for Charles to want to retrieve it after
all this time, and yet he believed a gun should
be used once in a while. A gun should be more
than an ornament on the wall of someone with no connection to the original owner.

The sister took the feeding rod in both hands as if she meant to twirl it like a baton.

“What do you call that?” said Charles, on the off-chance that a simple exchange of information would set the conversation back on track.

“It's the long spring-loaded insert that pushes shells into the chamber,” she said.

“Oh, okay.”

“How much do you want for this gun?” said the sister.

“I'm not selling it.”

“Well, let me ask you this,” said the brother. “Do you have it on you?”

“It's at her house.”

“We can't appraise what we can't see,” said the sister.

“Where is it again?”

“The minister's widow's house. In Grafton. Her name is Farina Matthews.”

The brother shook his head. “You're asking the shop to act as a go-between.”

“We tried it once,” said the sister. “Ended up in small claims court. It was a total loser for us.”

Charles looked at a fox pelt, dusty orange with gray fringe, tacked to the wall of the shop. The fox had been flattened, its paws flung outward. “What I'm suggesting is —”

“Yeah . . .”

“— you go to her, you buy it from her, then you would hold it free and clear, and then I come in, as if none of this had hap- pened. And I buy it from you.”

“We don't make house calls,” said the brother. “We're not like doctors.”

“Actually we are, in that respect,” said the sister. “We're not like old-time doctors, who made house calls.”

“If you want to have her stop by the shop, that's a different story.”

“She doesn't want
to sell it,” said Charles. “Not to me, anyway
.”

“Why is this conversation taking place?” said the brother
.

He turned away, presenting the blank white back of his shirt to Charles. Blue gun barrels stood in a row, silver chain laced through the trigger guards. Above the guns there was a license plate —
Iowa 1942
— all beat up as if the car or truck it had been on had hit many stumps. The sister pulled a catalogue from under the counter and began turning the pages.

A lone bluebottle buzzed in the gun shop. “Where did you come from?” said the sister. She raised her hand briefly in the fly's direction before returning to her search. “Okay. Here we go. The gun you want, here it is, Hutzel and Pfeil, and it's . . . umm . . . no longer made.”

A pheasant rose from dry weeds by the railroad track, the sound of its wings like the spinning of a wheel. Charles and his stepfather fired almost at once as it passed over the right-of-way. White clouds blazed in the sky. The pheasant fell near the tracks. Which of them had hit it was anyone's guess.

“We'll shoot for it,” said Charles's stepfather. “I'll be odd.”

Indeed you will,
thought Charles. He twisted the bill of his hat. “I don't know how,” he said.

His stepfather explained. On the count of three they would each display a number of fingers, letting the even- or oddness of the combined total decide who got the pheasant. Did Charles understand? No, but he pretended to. And sure enough, he did not do it right, presenting his fingers too late and nonetheless making a sum that lost the game.

His stepfather walked on, leaving the pheasant for Charles to carry. “If you're going to take the trouble to cheat,” he said, “you should at least win.”

They crossed to the cabin through a meadow of grass and mint. They could smell the mint as their steps broke the plants. Birch trees grew around the house, which was made of wood, with a plank door. It did not belong to Charles's stepfather but was open for the use of all. Inside, ants wandered over the walls and the rafters. A river ran far below the windows. The stepfather boiled water on a hot plate while Charles gathered newspapers on which they would clean the pheasant.
Surveyor
6
had lifted off from the moon, only to land again a few feet away.

“I didn't cheat,” said Charles.

This would have been the fall of 1967. After that Charles knew how to shoot for something, at least in this limited sense.

The minister's widow pushed a lawn aerator on a line between the clothesline and the house. Three sharp stars turned brightly through the grass. She kept an excellent yard and had always made it a point to do so. A van stopped on the street in front of the house. H
ERE COMES CHARLES THE PLUMBER
was written, red on white, above the grille. She gripped the worn wooden handle of the aerator as if she might pick it up and chase the driver away.

“There is nothing to talk about,” she said.

“I've just come from the gun shop,” said Charles. “They made an estimate. This is more than fair.” From a paper enve- lope he drew three bills.

“Where did you get that?”

“The bank.”

She could have used the money — who couldn't use three hundred now and then? — but resolutely she returned to her work. “Why would I do for payment what I wouldn't do for free?”

He laid the bills on the grass in her path. She speared them deftly with the tines of the aerator. “I'm not selling the gun.”

“Why not?”

“Ask your mother.”

“I talked to her,” said Charles. “She said it was that time with your boy.”

“Is that right?”

“When he was in the runaway car.”

She raised the aerator and the impaled money. “Are you threatening me?”

Charles took the bills back. “Mrs. Matthews, I'm trying to buy a gun which can't be any use to you. I know I don't have any right to it. But what happened between my mother and you thirty years ago I can't help. Just let me see it.”

“Well, you don't have to cry about it.”

“Let me see the gun.”

“You already did.”

In the summer she had let him into the house. Standing be- fore the mantel he had seemed big and misplaced, and she had worried for her miniature lighthouses of painted clay. Clearly he saw things in the gun that she did not, but it had been left to her by her husband, and she meant to keep it.

Farina Matthews climbed the steps of her house and washed her hands at the kitchen sink while watching the white van move down the road.
T
HERE GOES CHARLES THE PLUMBER
.
She walked through the rooms, past a vase of
cloth roses that seemed to watch her. Her husband
had called their home Max Gate, after the residence of Thomas
Hardy, his favorite author. She did not look at the gun. Her gaze drifted to the piano, on which stood a large and beautifully framed picture of her son. He was a chemist in Albuquerque and had done well for himself, discovering when he was barely out of college a new way of treating synthetic laminate so that it would remember its former shape in a vacuum.

The runaway car business amounted to nothing. That's what Charles would never understand. When her son was four years old, she had left him in the car while getting the mail at the post office. Somehow the youngster had released the brake. The car rolled down the snowy street, but so slowly that her son would never have gotten anywhere. Far from saving him, Charles's mother had made the situation worse by loping alongside the car and shouting as loudly as she could.

And now Charles wanted Farina to sell him the old gun, which complemented her fireplace in such a homey way. When everyone knew he stole and that his plumbing customers were either shady themselves or tolerant of shadiness.
I think not,
said the minister's widow to herself.

Charles Darling lived with his wife Joan, their son Micah, and Joan's daughter Lyris on two acres south of the town of Boris. The house had been built a hundred years ago and added on to forty years ago, and the two pieces did not much match. The older part was a dormered cottage, the newer part a boot room. All in all, the place was too small, especially since the arrival of Lyris, the daughter whom Joan had placed for adoption sixteen years before.

Behind the house stood a stucco hut with a dirt floor. They called it a barn, but this was an overstatement. The doors latched with a hasp and pin, and the soft ruts of the driveway were thick with grass. Railroad tracks ran behind the back yard, and trees grew on the hill beyond the tracks. Charles went into the barn and looked through his toolboxes for a chain pipe wrench. He had no immediate need for it but had noted its absence and did not like to be out and about with- out it.

In the house he asked Micah if he had taken the wrench from the barn.

“Describe it,” said the boy.

“About yay long and blue, with a chain on the end,” said Charles. “Like a bike chain. It's a good heavy wrench. You can't mistake it for anything else.”

Micah sat on the deep freeze in the boot room looking at a clothespin as if a secret message had been written on it in very small print. The red hair bristled on his head. He had careful, measuring eyes. “What's a bike chain?”

“How old are you?”

“Seven.”

“And you're asking me that.”

“I didn't take any wrench.”

It bothered Charles that Micah could not ride, and yet there was only so much he himself could do. A father can't ride a bike for a son. “You've got to know these things, Mike.”

“Do you want to hear my part in the school play?”

“Get off this,” said Charles. “Get off a minute.”

Micah jumped down from the freezer. Charles raised the lid and pulled up a clouded blue sack of ice. “Let's hear your part in the school play.”


‘You know, as well as I / The fossil record does not lie.
'

“What's the topic?” said Charles.

“Evolution.”

Charles beat on the ice with a hammer and then made a drink in the kitchen, where Joan sat at the table packing her suitcase for a trip to the city. The orderly stacks of her clothing seemed at odds with the clutter of the kitchen. Curtains lay in heaps under the windows. One of the burners on the stove, missing the knob that turned it on and off, was controlled by a pair of vise grips locked onto the metal stem. Under the table were black suede riding chaps, a green laundry basket with clothes spilling over the sides, and a tin of walnuts. Every­thing might have been moving a short time before, spinning around Joan and her suitcase.

“Don't say anything,” she said. “I'm thinking.”

Charles took Micah and the drink outside. The bike leaned against a stone column. Charles turned it upside down so that it rested in the dirt on seat and handlebars, and worked the pedals, blurring the spokes of the rear wheel.

“If you learned how to ride, you would know what the chain was,” Charles advised. He righted the bicycle, lifted the boy onto the seat, and gave a push. “Leave now and you can be in Canada by the first snow.”

The bicycle wobbled into the cool air of fall. Charles picked up his drink from the ground. Micah could not steady the handlebars but kept wrenching them back and forth in the stylized tango of all beginning riders. Then he fell, on the sand by the road. He disentangled himself from the bike and ran to Charles, holding his elbow, on which blood appeared in dozens of tiny gouges. Charles helped him limp to the house. The boy's breath came at rough intervals. “I don't like learning,” he said.

“Learning isn't so bad,” said Charles. “It's falling that hurts.”

Joan had closed her suitcase. Her arms lay over the lid, her head resting sideways between them, as if she were listening to the heartbeat of the luggage, her blond hair fanned over her shoulders. She looked spent and peaceful, like a pilgrim who has found the sacred site.

She spoke softly into the pale hollow of an elbow. “Did you remember to get my travel-sized samples?”

“I did.” Charles reached into the pockets of his coat and laid on the table his keys, the three hundred dollars, and the small containers of face cream and hair conditioner that she would not go without. Joan held reflexive opinions about many subjects, including travel. Everything had to be a certain way long before the time of departure or else she became anxious.

Micah ducked under the table. “Daddy! Here's your wrench.” He had found it nestled in the chaps.

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